Tag Archives: chaos

A Light in Time

Advent St. JIt is a season of renewal, a time when we review the old year and make resolutions for the new one. We judge our time, our spending of time, our use or abuse of the year 2015. Each year is a gift. It is a unique segment of our lives, a year we cannot retrieve and a year that will never be repeated. We are given only one chance with our lives, only one chance with the time given.

And so we look back and consider what habits to discard and what to keep, what to repent and what to repeat, what to affirm and what to deny. Sometimes confusion reigns even in hindsight, and the better path not obvious even from this vista point, perched as we are on the cliff at the end of the year, getting ready to jump into 2016, a new segment of time granted to us, this new year. 

“She had the time of her life.” We say this to emphasize a moment of great exuberance and joy, a peak time amidst the other valleys. But all time is of our lives. All time is holy.

As I look back on my year, I do indeed see confusion and chaos. A good friend and mentor left our earthly time and entered eternity, leaving us behind. Another friend is getting ready to leave, in hospice care. Her bags are nearly packed and she is peacefully waiting the chariot.

In the past year there have been many risings to occasions and putting best feet forward and keeping stiff upper lips. There have been duties and responsibilities not always heartfelt, actions ordered by God’s law of love. There have been dark times in shadowy valleys where answers could not be seen, where the fork in the road had no signpost, or the sign had been lost, thrown into the bushes.

And yet looking back at 2015 I also see clarity and order. My good friend and mentor in Heaven left me many gifts that live on bridging our separation, gifts of wisdom and love, ways to see and believe, the necessity of humility and its fruit, repentance. My friend waiting for her journey to Heaven continues to gift me in her last days, but I can see clearly now that her friendship itself was given to me to make sense of my own time.

The risings to occasions, the duties and responsibilities not eagerly engaged, rewove my own heart to be of stronger stuff, not so easily thwarted by dismay and danger, informing my soul again with God’s law of love. The dark times through the journey of 2015 led me to the altar of my local church, pushing me to my knees in penitence and prayer, and when I re-entered the world I found myself on the top of a mountain of light with a clear view of the surrounding countryside.

We do indeed live behind the veil of eternity. Some of us glimpse the brilliant color and catch the fragrance and sensory delight on the other side. Some of us hear the music, the choirs of angels and the songs of the saints. Some of us don’t know how to lift the curtain or even believe that it can be lifted or that it is there at all, thinking this world is all there is.

And so as I stepped through the dark days of Advent, those short wintry days, I watched and I prayed and I worshiped God in his Church, calling for Christ’s coming, singing with his people. Slowly, a light shined in the darkness, revealing my place in the world, my place in my moment of time. I observed the rituals and rites of Christmas with their sacramental signs, knowing they would lead me to the light to see again.

I garlanded the evergreen in our bowed window and strung twinkling lights through the branches. Ornaments from the years of my life were resurrected from tissue nests in boxes, where they had lived since last Christmas. The figurines and balls and tassels hanging from bits of wire released memories from the prison of my mind, giving them air, and a stained-glass gathering of family and children and loved ones crowded happily with one another in my heart.

In the days before Christmas – after the parish pageant on Advent IV – I set up our large crèche figures on the hearth and dangled a golden star from the mantel. Fresh white candles found holders in all the rooms so that I would not forget the great light coming soon to the world to banish the dark, the darkness of winter, the darkness of my soul.

So the confusion of life, after all, I learned once again, can be cleared. There is a way to lighten the darkness, as described by St. John whose feast we celebrate today:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not… That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

John 1+, Gospel reading for Christmas Day

And in one of John’s letters to an early church:

“This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”             I John 1+

And so, as my good friend in Heaven taught me, one must walk in the light – that is, penitently – in order to see in the darkness. He also gave me the gift of the Church, the Body of Christ, that leads me to the light. For only by entering the doors of Christ’s Body can we experience clarity amidst confusion. Only by walking up the aisle to kneel at the altar can we know the love of God and his forgiveness. Only by observing our time, each day, hour, minute, within the seasons of the life of the Church, can we find our way forward into the New Year that awaits each of us.

I look back upon 2015 and see a map of love through time. I want to follow that path that journeys with Love incarnate. I look forward to 2016, every minute, every hour, every step of the way, lit by the light and love of Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us.

Secret Stairs in Berkeley

secret stairs 1I’ve been studying a map of Berkeley and the secret stairs of the Berkeley Hills produced by the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association. The characters in my novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, follow these steps that bridge roads winding into the forests above the university campus, winding up to the Fire Trails.

It is curious how maps organize a broad range of information and yet at the same time help the eye to focus and pinpoint one spot. Maps are like our brains, full of detail, a network of perception of both the past (memory), the present (observation) and the future (plans). Like this shiny unfolded paper that covers my desk, we too are mapped with broad ranges as well as focal points; our brains are miracles of design, epicenters of will and desire.

Novels are stories that connect the dots, draw the lines between moments of intense focus. These moments are often crises producing turning-points. A main crisis propels the major arc of the novel along, as sub-crises propel the chapters, and sometimes even sub-sub-crises propel the scenes. The process is much like walking through Berkeley, coming upon secret stairs that connect the winding roads; sometimes we rise and sometimes we fall.

History is full of these patterns, and these crises often catalyze action, focusing our attention, the attention of our community, the attention of our country, the attention of the world, upon a single incident. The crisis we remembered this week was the horrific bombing of the World Trade Center thirteen years ago on September 11. Our television screens invaded our homes with the shocking news, and although there had been many smaller crises leading up to this one, it was this one that caught our attention, that became America’s and the Western world’s turning point.

We had not been attacked on our own soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941. Our violence since then had been self-inflicted – shootings, riots, demonstrations. Some of us, in our arrogance, tried to deny it was the work of a foreign enemy. How could anyone do this? Each of us recalls, like the day that President Kennedy was shot, where we were and what we were doing when we found out, when we first saw the plumes rising, heard the rumble of the falling towers. It was as though the jets had sliced a knife into our hearts and minds. Our safe and civilized world crumbled; the map of our culture had been ripped apart and was increasingly incomprehensible. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were threatened; our freedom of speech – in word, deed, and worship – was attacked.

They say that the West experienced a similar shock as it counted its dead in the aftermath of World War I, a war we memorialize this year, begun one hundred years ago. Then too, the fire trail was breached, and the flames of barbarism crossed into our peaceful lands, threatening to destroy all that the West had built, over thousands of years since Abraham (then Abram) was called to leave the pagan world of Ur. World War I was a turning point, a catalyst that produced nihilism and despair, Lenin and Hitler and Mao, Nietzsche’s superman and the cold liberal arrogance of academic elite reigning from their own towers, these of ivory.

Church and temple imploded, divided on the path to take. Many of the once-faithful claimed God to be dead, or at least sleeping. Many delighted in such a claim, worshiping themselves and contributing to the anarchy of self-gratification now so fashionable. And so, darkness descended upon the Western world, lit here and there by communities of traditional believers, those who held onto their map, saw the way forward clearly in Scripture, Sacrament, and Creed, and who lit their candles, calling all to come and worship.

There have been three beheadings in the last month, at the last count, and I suppose now the world is watching and counting. We are finally focused. The many lines, the many roads, the many intersections where we weren’t sure which way to turn, have all converged in a single place on our map. Like the World Trade Center bombings, these violent images have stabbed our hearts and minds.

Through it all, the lights lit in our churches and temples burn brightly, calling us together, to gather as one heart and one mind before God. And as I knelt in the pew this morning in St. Joseph’s Chapel in Berkeley, my minutes and days of the week, however scattered, were gathered together in that single hour of worship. In that hour of song and praise and penitence and communion, all that was past was brought into the present and redeemed. All that would come in the future lay in God’s palm, cradled.

The connecting stairs were no longer secret passageways, but right there in beautiful bold print in my Book of Common Prayer. The paths led sensibly through the dark and into the light between the onionskin pages of my tattered Bible. Sin was forgiven, death destroyed. I could turn again, re-pent, re-form, in this weekly turning point. I could face the days ahead of me, the chaos of the world, the burning of the good and the beautiful and the true. For here was the essence, the distillation of the good, the beautiful, and the true. Here was life, for me and for each of us. Here was love that passeth all understanding, love that made sense of all maps.